1849 - 1919
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During the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th, Robert Harris was the most renowned portrait painter in Canada. The more than 300 portraits known to exist in private and public collections represent a microcosm of Canada’s business and social elite.
Born in 1849 at The Vale of Conway, North Wales, Harris arrived in Charlottetown, P.E.I., with his parents in 1856. In the fall of 1872, before leaving for Boston, Harris was commissioned to paint portraits of the speakers of the Island’s House of Assembly.
In January, 1880 Harris received a formal letter informing him that the governor general had nominated him a founding member of the Canadian (later Royal Canadian) Academy of Arts. Harris was also a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and taught for a short time at the Ontario School of Art.
In what would be his most important commission, Harris was awarded the honour of commemorating the Fathers of Confederation in a large painting in 1893. That same year he was nominated president of the Academy. He remained in office for 13 years, the longest term yet served by any president.
Harris’ work is held in many important private and public collections including The National Gallery of Canada, Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, The McCord Museum, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and The Art Gallery of Ontario.